Brexit scientific adviser still awaited

UK government gives 'non-committal' response to calls for researchers' voices to be heard

February 20, 2017

The government has not yet appointed a chief scientific adviser for Brexit despite MPs saying it should be a priority.

An inquiry into the effects of leaving the European Union on science late last year left MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee unconvinced that the needs of research are at the heart of the new Department for Exiting the EU’s plans.

They said that the UK’s “world-class” research base must be “heard at the negotiating table” and they urged DExEU to “hire a chief scientific adviser as a matter of priority”.

But DExEU has yet to appoint one, according to the government’s response to the inquiry. The report says it is still considering how to ensure that officials are accessing the best scientific advice from inside and outside government and that there are number of different ways of doing it.

DExEU are “continuing to work closely” with the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport to consider how the department accesses scientific advice, it adds.

Sir Mark’s views on research and Brexit have recently come under scrutiny after an academic at Imperial College London tweeted that he had heard Sir Mark was in favour of the UK leaving the EU’s multibillion research and innovation funding programme, Horizon 2020.

Whether scientists will continue to have access to EU funding programmes is a top concern for researchers. The Treasury has pledged to underwrite any projects awarded during Horizon 2020, but whether the UK will be able to bid for subsequent programmes is a subject for negotiation.

Sir Mark has also recently come under fire for his management of scientific advice across government.

The chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Stephen Metcalfe, wrote to Sir Mark earlier this month to express his concern over whether the Government Office for Science has a “comprehensive overview” of chief scientific advisers in each government department.

Sir Mark’s predecessor, Sir John Beddington, counted among his top three achievements as putting a chief scientific adviser in every major department of government. In his letter, Mr Metcalfe asks Sir Mark to assure him that Sir John’s legacy was being sustained and that the network of chief scientific advisers was still recognised as a “vital way” of making scientific advice available across government.

He adds that he is concerned about the length of time it takes to recruit new advisers.

Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics, and master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, said that the tone of the whole response from government was “non-committal”.

“The [science] community may be pleased that science and innovation have featured strongly in recent statements by the prime minister, but there is little hard information about what will be done in the future once Article 50 is triggered and the real negotiations [on leaving the EU] begin,” she said.

The report adds that outside government, DExEU is continuing to consult with a wide range of universities and research institutions about the implications of Brexit.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations